Victoria, BC is home to a diverse array of wildlife, from massive humpback whales to tiny colorful hummingbirds. This coastal city offers many opportunities for nature lovers to see animals in their natural habitats. But, where exactly do you go if you want to see wildlife around Victoria?
Whether you’re looking to spot a majestic bald eagle, watch a seal bobbing in the water, or catch a glimpse of orcas, Victoria has something to offer anyone. While some animals around the city are pretty common, you’ll need to know where to go if you want to spot some of the more elusive species!
We cover where to go in and around Victoria for the best wildlife viewing opportunities. While spotting wildlife does require a lot of luck, patience, determination, and good timing, hopefully we will help you improve your chances of spotting some of the incredible animals around the city!
Where to See Wildlife in Victoria, BC
Many people head to Victoria for the incredible whale watching opportunities. Many whale, dolphin, and porpoise species call this region home, from the striking black-and-white killer whales to the massive humpback whales.
While you might spot a whale from shore, joining a whale watching tour gives you the best chance to see whales around Victoria. On these wildlife viewing tours, you’ll cruise around the ocean in a covered boat or Zodiac, looking for the gigantic marine mammals.
With a high success rate, you’re practically guaranteed to spot whales — and if you don’t see any, you get to go again for free!
Whales around Victoria include humpback, gray and minke whales, resident and transient orcas, Dall’s and harbour porpoises, and Pacific white-sided dolphins.
When we’ve gone out on these tours, we’ve seen all kinds of whale species and their different behaviors. We see something new on almost every tour and could go again and again without getting bored!
We especially love going out on the sunset whale watching tour. Nothing beats watching a breaching whale with a sunset backdrop.
Spotting whales from shore is rare, but still possible. While it’s usually luck of the draw, sometimes whales are spotted off 10 Mile Point, East Sooke Park, Glencoe Cove-Kwatsech Park, and Dallas Road. Keep a sharp eye out while on the ferry too!
Sea Lions and Seals
Victoria is a great place to spot seals and sea lions (known collectively as pinnipeds). These charismatic creatures are spotted lounging on the rocks, frolicking in the waves, and chasing fish in the coastal waters.
Whale watching tours are a great way to spot seals and sea lions, but you can also see them from shore if you know where to look!
Harbour seals — Victoria’s most common seal species — pop up almost everywhere along the shoreline. If you see a seal-shaped head in the water, it’s most likely a harbour seal!
Look for harbour seals at the breakwater, Victoria Harbour, marinas (like the Oak Bay Marina), beaches, and small islands (like Trial Island Ecological Reserve and Chain Islets). Basically, just look anywhere in the water along the coastline, really!
Northern elephant seals, identified by their weirdly-shaped nose, are sometimes spotted around Victoria but are pretty rare. Occasionally, young elephant seals haul up on Victoria’s beaches to molt in autumn. Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is home to one of the most northern breeding colonies of Northern Elephant Seals along the Pacific Coast.
While Victoria is home to two sea lion species, California and Steller sea lions, they aren’t as commonly spotted around Victoria — unless you know where to go!
The best place to spot sea lions is at Cowichan Bay, near Duncan. Every fall, sea lions gather here for the salmon run. During this time, expect to see huge numbers of giant Steller sea lions and the slightly smaller California sea lions all resting on the docks — you’ll hear and smell them before you see them!
Want to witness one of nature’s most spectacular shows of determination? Every year, the salmon return to the rivers around Victoria to spawn and it’s a sight you won’t want to miss!
During the salmon run, these large fish migrate from the Pacific Ocean up the coastal streams of Victoria (and the rest of the Pacific Northwest) to reproduce and complete their life cycle. Watching the salmon fight their way upstream is fascinating and one of the most unique things that you can do in Victoria.
The best place to see the salmon run around Victoria is at Goldstream Provincial Park, from mid-October to early December. Here, you can observe Chum Salmon from the shore of the Goldstream River or from the bridge that goes over the water.
Timing is important — go too early and you’ll miss the fish, go too late and it’ll be quite stinky!
Goldstream Provincial Park also gets quite busy during the salmon run. We recommend visiting on a weekday or early on the weekend during this time of year.
You don’t just have to see salmon when they’re spawning. Victoria also offers some of the best salmon fishing opportunities in the world, for Chinook, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye salmon. If you plan on fishing for salmon, you’ll need a license with a Salmon conservation stamp.
Victoria features kilometers of coastline with some incredible tide pooling opportunities. These small pools of ocean water hold a magical assortment of intertidal creatures, from aggregating anemones to colorful ochre starfish.
Cattle Point is one of the best tide pooling spots in Victoria. The park features tide pools rich in marine life, just steps away from the parking lot. At low tide, look for tiny fish, hiding crabs, and clusters of anemones in the water. Seals, river otters, and seabirds are also commonly spotted here and it’s close to the beautiful Willows Beach!
For those willing to venture outside the city limits, Botanical Beach in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is a must-see tide pooling destination. Miniature marine ecosystems are captured perfectly in the bowl-shaped tide pools of Botanical Beach. It’s the perfect destination for nature enthusiasts!
Grab a seashore field guide and head to the coast at low tide to spot some marine life. Make sure to check the tide charts before heading out!
Greater Victoria has a large population of otters that inhabit its coastal waters. However, these otters aren’t exactly the species you’d expect to see swimming around in the ocean — they’re actually river otters!
Trust us, if you spot an otter swimming in the ocean around Victoria, it’s likely a river otter and not a sea otter. Sea otters are 2-3 times bigger than river otters and spend all of their time in the ocean, usually floating on their backs. River otters swim with their belly facing down, and will often come onto land.
Why are sea otters rarely spotted around Victoria? In the early 1900s, sea otters were overhunted by the fur trade, leading them to be extirpated from British Columbia. Sea otters were reintroduced to BC from Alaska in the early 1970s. Their population is growing but is still quite small, especially around Victoria. If you spot one in this area, you’re quite lucky!
We’ve had good luck spotting river otters at Cattle Point and Willows Beach, Glencoe Cove-Kwatsech Park, and the Breakwater. Look for them along rocky beaches or swimming alongside shore. You’ll often spot their thin tail as they dive underwater in search of food.
Sea otters like to hang out in kelp beds, much further from shore than river otters. Sometimes, whale-watching tours from Victoria will spot them. There is also a resident sea otter at Race Rocks, called Ollie.
Bald eagles are an iconic bird of prey commonly spotted perching, fishing, and soaring around Victoria. If you’re a local, you get used to seeing these majestic birds almost everywhere you go! For those who don’t live here, spotting these raptors is always a magical experience.
When visiting Victoria, watch for large brown birds soaring overhead or perched in the trees, usually with a white head and tail but not always.
While adults are quite distinctive, juveniles might get confused with turkey vultures from afar. Juveniles start fully brown and don’t fully develop their signature white plumage until 5 years old. You can tell the two apart by the bald red head and shakier flight of the turkey vulture.
The estuary at Goldstream Provincial Park is the best place in Victoria to see bald eagles in fall (about October to December). At this time of year, they gather to hunt salmon.
Ferry travelers should bring their binoculars, too! We spot bald eagles every time we travel by ferry through the Southern Gulf Islands. They are especially common around Active Pass, perching on the trees of Mayne and Galiano Islands.
A great way to spot bald eagles is by listening for their gull-like peal call. Just remember that their calls don’t sound like what you’d hear in the movies — usually, a red-tailed hawk call is used in films to make bald eagles sound more impressive!
Other Bird Species
With diverse and abundant birdlife, Victoria is an excellent place to go birdwatching — not just for bald eagles!
Stroll along the many beaches to spot shorebirds, listen to warblers in the lush forests, watch for hummingbirds flitting in among the flowers of Victoria’s gardens, look for birds of prey soaring on the thermals…
With numerous species located all across the city, birdwatchers will never get bored here!
One of Victoria’s best birdwatching spots is located in Colwood — the Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This protected park features sheltered tidal waters surrounded by forest and beautiful sandy beach. The lagoon is home to thousands of waterbirds, from surf scoters and teals to kingfishers and shorebirds. It’s common to spot birders here with scopes and cameras, especially at the golden hour!
Other great places to birdwatch in Victoria include the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park, Panama Flats, and Island View Beach Regional Park. No matter where you go, you’ll likely be able to cross a lifer or two off your list when birdwatching in Victoria, BC!
When you visit Victoria, expect to see deer wandering around the neighborhoods. The city is home to a large and thriving black-tailed deer population.
These deer are spotted all around the city, even in backyards! They are especially common around the golf courses (like Uplands Golf Club and Victoria Golf Club), parks like Beacon Hill, and other grassy areas, like Ross Bay Cemetery.
Black-tailed deer are the main species of wild ungulate (hooved animals) around Victoria. However, there are also invasive fallow deer in the Southern Gulf Islands. These non-native European deer were once introduced to Vancouver Island for sport hunting but now are wrecking havoc on the local ecosystem.
Further north on the island, there are also Roosevelt Elk, which are massive and genetically isolated from the mainland. They are native to Vancouver Island and found in areas like Lake Cowichan, Port Renfrew, and Nanaimo.
Black bears aren’t often spotted around Victoria, although there is always the possibility of seeing one. However, this is really luck of the draw.
Sometimes, black bears are spotted in more rural areas like Metchosin, Sooke, or Goldstream. There have even been black bears sighted in some unusual spots around the city, like at the Juan de Fuca Rec Centre. These sightings are pretty uncommon though.
Grizzly bears are sometimes (rarely) spotted on Vancouver Island, but not around Victoria. They are found in the northern part of the island, around Port Hardy and north of Campbell River. A few grizzlies will swim across the water to Vancouver Island from BC’s central coast, but they usually don’t stay year-round.
If you want to see bears, we recommend joining an Indigenous-led grizzly bear-watching tour. Departing from Campbell River, these tours take you on a wild boat adventure to Orford Bay, part of the Homalco First Nation’s traditional territory along Bute Inlet. Here, you’ll search for impressive brown bears in their natural habitat!
Grey wolves are not common around Victoria. Most live along the west coast of Vancouver Island, or north past Campbell River.
In the past, there was a lone wolf named Stqéyəʔ (also known as Takaya) that lived on Discovery and Chatham Islands, which lay just offshore from Oak Bay.
After swimming to shore one day, the wolf was spotted running through James Bay. After being captured, Takaya was relocated to Port Renfrew where he was unfortunately shot by a hunter.
Takaya was an unusual sighting around southern Vancouver Island. Even in areas with more wolves, they are still elusive and seldom spotted. Chances are extremely slim of spotting a wolf around the city — you’ll have more luck up north, around the Pacific Rim or Cape Scott.
Did you know that Vancouver Island has the highest density of cougars in North America? While most of the cougar population inhabits the northern parts of the island, they are still occasionally found in the rural and suburban areas of Greater Victoria.
While you’re highly unlikely to ever spot a cougar around Victoria, there’s always a chance. They are more common around the outskirts of the city, such as Metchosin. Most residents never see cougars — we certainly haven’t!
Victoria is also home to a variety of smaller mammal species, including raccoons, mustelids like mink and marten, and rodents like rabbits, squirrels, and yes — even rats.
If you’re up late at night, you might be lucky to spot some raccoons foraging alongside the roads. We’ve spotted them in places like Beacon Hill in the early morning or late evening.
Minks can sometimes be spotted fishing along the shoreline. They look like small otters and swim too, but stick closer to shore and like rocky areas.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Several species of amphibians call Victoria home. There are 3 species of frogs and 6 salamander species, as well as two invasive frog species. They can be found around ponds, wetlands, or forest habitats — depending on the species.
Pacific chorus frogs are the most commonly heard frog around Victoria and are often singing loudly around wet areas. Other species you might hear or see include Western Toads and Northern Red-Legged Frog.
American bullfrogs – an invasive species – are often spotted in lakes, such as Thetis Lake. If you see a massive tadpole, it’s probably an American bullfrog. Bronze Frogs are also invasive.
Salamanders and newts can also be found around Victoria, like the Northwestern Salamander or the Roughskin Newt. Some species are semi-aquatic, living in ponds and wetlands. Others are entirely terrestrial, hiding under logs and plants on the moist forest floor.
Good spots to look for amphibians are at Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, Goldstream Provincial Park, Elk Lake, and Thetis Lake.
Victoria is home to several species of reptiles, including lizards, turtles, and snakes.
The most common reptile around Victoria seems to be the Common Wall Lizard, an invasive species introduced from Italy. They have adapted to life in Victoria quite well and on hot sunny days, you’ll spot these little lizards everywhere, sunbathing on rocks, sidewalks, logs, etc…
Wall lizards look quite similar to Victoria’s native species of lizard, the Northern Alligator Lizard. If you get a good look, you can tell them apart as the invasive species is more slender and much faster.
Turtles are best spotted on a sunny day, when they crawl onto logs to sunbathe. We often see them at Thetis Lake, Elk/Beaver Lake, and Beacon Hill. In the summer, head to Goodacre Lake at Beacon Hill Lake to a long row of turtles sunning themselves on a floating log!
Snakes are also a common sight on hot days, but don’t worry — none of the species that call Victoria home are dangerous! They will often be sunning themselves beside sidewalks or trails.
Top Travel Tips & Resources for Victoria, BC
- Travel Insurance – If you’re travelling internationally, travel insurance is a must for any trip. Being covered by insurance is especially important when you’re going to an adventure-filled place like British Columbia. If you injure yourself while adventuring, you want to have insurance! We recommend using SafetyWing for international travel insurance. They are affordable and have great policies for travellers, digital nomads, and remote workers. Also, SafetyWing provides COVID-19 coverage, which many other insurance companies don’t cover.
- Car Rental – We find the best deal on vehicle rental prices using RentalCars.com. They compare the prices for different car rental companies so you can find the best deals out there!
- Accommodations – We prefer booking all of our hotels, hostels, and other accommodations through Booking.com because they have a flexible cancellation policy. Also, there are lots of different options on their platform, from hotels to vacation homes. Alternatively, Expedia and Hotels.com are good for booking accommodations. For vacation home rentals, VRBO is an excellent choice (they have lower fees than Airbnb, many of the same properties, and are more ethical).
- Flights – You’ll find many good flight deals on Skyscanner or Google Flights. You can book flights through these websites and they’ll help you find the best prices and flight times. If you fly at less popular times (e.g. mid-week or red-eye flights), you can also save some money.
- Tours – Get the most out of your vacation by taking a guided tour! This is a great way to see the city, adventure to exciting new locations, and learn about the local culture. Viator or GetYourGuide are great options for booking tours.